Northern Ireland news


Demand for clarity among 'shocked' councillors as PSNI raid Mid and East Antrim offices

Paul Ainsworth

COUNCILLORS in Mid and East Antrim have demanded clarity following a police raid at the headquarters of the controversy-hit local authority.

Detectives from the PSNI's Criminal Investigation Branch carried out searches in Ballymena yesterday as part of an investigation into "suspected offences of Misconduct in Public Office and under the Freedom of Information Act 2000".

The activity at the Bridge Street premises left councillors "shocked" and prompted calls for answers.

Independent councillor Rodney Quigley told the Irish News: "If there is any wrongdoing here then of course it must be investigated thoroughly and must be done in an open and transparent manner."

SDLP councillor Eugene Reid called it a "sorry episode".

On Twitter, Mr Reid said it was the "latest in a long line of incidents that have dragged the name of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council through the mud and I have contacted senior council officials to request an immediate update following this raid".

TUV councillor Timothy Gaston described events as a "shambles" and said he had written to the borough's DUP mayor William McCaughey to demand answers about the nature of the police operation.

Last week a trade union asked for a Stormont department to oversee the running of the council amid claims its members had no confidence in it.

Questions had also been asked about the unionist-dominated council's role in the removal of staff in carrying out post-Brexit checks at Larne Port in February following claims of loyalist intimidation.

Police later said there was no evidence of credible threats.

A subsequent report by the Stormont Agriculture Committee found the staff removal had contributed to rising tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Last month the council voted to refer itself to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.

Separately a recent report by workers' union Nipsa found that 61 percent of respondents said they had experienced bullying while working at the council.

Last week Nipsa asked Stormont's Department for Communities to step in and run the council in the wake of the controversies.

Following the police visit to the Ballymena offices, a council spokesperson said last night: "Council can confirm it is fully assisting the PSNI with its enquiries. As this is an ongoing investigation, Council is unable to comment further at this time."

The council is currently without the leadership of Chief Executive Anne Donaghy, who took sick leave in September.

Last Friday the council said a special meeting would take place tonight "at which the interim leadership of council will be among the issues discussed, and the way forward agreed".

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